We see Buddha figures in the lotus position or even close-ups of their visages.  What often strikes me is the visages, always serene, are seldom weak.  The art of achieving this has evolved over many centuries.

So it was with the Buddha of Seokguram in the region of Bulguksa in the south-east of the Korean peninsula.  We took a two-hour trip on the highway from Daeso, where I was teaching, to reach this place of pilgrimage and history amongst hills and mountains.  Here, in the Three Kingdoms period (circa 500 c.e. to 1000 c.e.), the Korean culture went through a remarkable renaissance.  There is, for example, one of the world’s oldest observatories, amongst other things.

At Bulguksa itself there are temples and places of learning.  At the entrance of these temples there is, as with many sites in South Korea, the information board telling visitors that Bulguksa, established in 800 c.e., was razed to the ground by the invading Japanese in the 1590s and it was rebuilt in the 1700s.

Bulguksa entrance gate (Note Chinese, rather than Korean, inscription) 


Temple entrance with visiting students


Artwork in temple

Away from the tourists and the pilgrims, in a quiet hillside some kilometres further, we visited Seokguram.  It is an undramatic enclosure partly underground, having been strategically buried to hide the Buddha figure from the plundering invaders.

Unimposing entrance to Seokguram

The figure itself — the Buddha in a lotus position — is said to have been carved in the 600s c.e., the more remarkable as Buddhism had only reached Korea from India some three hundred years before.  Today it is one of the most revered in Asia, not least for its classic simplicity.

Sakyamuni Buddha, Seokguram

It is necessary, they said, to keep pilgrims and visitors away from the figure itself with glass panels.  The viewing walkway from which we could see the figure under the brick cupola was tightly packed with people.  The figure itself, three and a half metres of white granite, struck me as being simply conceived, unadorned and majestically pure.   On the lap lies the open hand of healing.

Buddha, the healer

I was moved seeing an old woman, wizened and bent, in the glow of her reverence for the imposing figure.  Tears fell over her smile.

© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

Late-2007.  Written Dec, 2017



Ancient History encyclopedia online.



Entrance, temples, artwork – my photos

Seokguram images  –  sources lost



I visited the Washing Trough in the medieval quarter of Antibes — a large trough under a six-pole roof.  Here, women (men wouldn’t stoop so low) washed and scrubbed clothing for centuries, not far from the remains of a little stone-packed enclosure in the bay made by the Greeks in the centuries before the Romans came.

Washing Trough

The walls around the Washing Trough, rough and irregular, supported by modern cement,  seized my attention.  There, an artist had attached small, cement-moulded sculptures, not bigger than the length of a hand.  And the more I looked, the more I saw.

Moulded in cement


Gross and brooding

It is clear that these figures — portrait-type faces, amongst others — were done by a gifted hand.  They are detailed and evocative.

Wood nymph?




Battered by life

I have not been able to establish who this artist could be.  It seems likely that the artist is unknown, taking quixotic joy in placing these creations anonymously on stone walls off the beaten track.

Sad angel


Wizened king

Monsieur … Mademoiselle … qui que vous soyez, je vous honore!

© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

December, 2017



My photographs






In the past few days France has lost two of its most beloved figures — Jean d’Ormesson (born 1926), writer and philosopher, and Johnny Hallyday (born 1943), rock singer and actor.  The former I know only from what I’ve heard on the media  — an author of more than forty books; one who received the highest honours in France and became a household name.

Jean d’Ormesson

The other, Johnny Hallyday, was a singer I heard about in my teenage in South Africa.  He was billed as France’s answer to Elvis Presley and certainly he modelled himself on the American singer — the body movements;  the sideburns and, of course, the style of singing.  A baby-boomer, he had, by the late-1950s, absorbed American rock culture.

Johnny the Rocker

During the 1960s he radicalized French popular music with the primal force of rock, tumbling his audiences into the dionysiac abysses of ecstatic passion and wearing the restless mien of a moody James Dean.  He tore French popular music from its sedate past, bulldozing his audiences with blocks of the blues, or with full-tilt rock ‘n roll.

He sold 110 million albums and performed in 3,257 concerts.  He acted in 38 films and certainly a better actor than Elvis.  Later in his career he returned, at times, to singing French chansons.  Apart from Elvis, the influence of Jacques Brel became apparent.

Johhny – in full cry

Today the France 2 television channel has shelved all programmes and spent the time reviewing Johnny’s at times tragic life.  The television cameras have interviewed people on the streets, even asking them to sing one of Johnny’s hits, which some have been too emotional to do.

There have been tributes from little old ladies, reliving their youth, from two of France’s past presidents and from the current president.  His death was announced in the French parliament. For everyone the loss feels personal.  A complex man who was married several times, he suffered bouts of depression which he banished by rocketing people into the joy of losing inhibitions through music.  The nation grieves.

© Will van der Walt

Les  Semboules, Antibes

6th December, 2017



France 2 television



Jean d’Ormesson –

Johnny Hallyday –




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